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'Bad boy' Johor prince crafts new image

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Just a year ago, Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim was seen as a 'bad boy' of sorts.

Previous reports of his alleged involvement in fights and confrontations had raised concerns that the prince may be living up to his predecessors' reputations in that they were notorious for their run-ins with the law.

In 2009, Tunku Nadzimuddin Tunku Mudzaffar, a member of the Negeri Sembilan royal family, had accused Tunku Ismail of holding him hostage and putting a gun to his head.

Tunku Nadzimuddin ( photo ) had also produced pictures of his bruised face, claiming it to be a handiwork of the Johor prince and lamented police unwillingness to weigh in.

Tunku Ismail, who is Johor Football Association president, was also last year accused of issuing a death threat during a scheduled match between Terengganu-based football club T-Team and Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).

Brazilian football player Fabio Flor De Azavedo who played for T-Team, had lodged a police report against the Johor prince for allegedly making the death threat against him.

Press reports, citing a report made by the T-Team management, also alleged Tunku Ismail ( photo ) had punched the football club's forward Evaldo Rodrigues Goncalves Cardoso in the face while his bodyguard kicked T-Team's fitness coach Stefano Impagliazzo in the groin.

A police investigation was initiated but there was no further action.

Fast forward to today and the 'colourful' history on Tunku Ismail now appears to be a matter of the past as netizens heap praise on the Johor prince for being a champion of the rakyat.

Tunku Ismail has capitalised on the sliding popularity of Najib Abdul Razak by criticising the prime minister for his no-show at a 1MDB dialogue titled 'Nothing2Hide'.

"How can you have a dialogue called 'Nothing2Hide' featuring a person who has everything to hide?

"Obviously he won't show up," Tunku Ismail had said in a June 5 posting on the Johor Southern Tigers Facebook page, the re-branded name of the Johor football team under his leadership.

Internet royal sweetheart

Immediately after his remarks, Tunku Ismail earned the thumbs up from netizens.

And when Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz ( photo ) criticised Tunku Ismail in a brash manner by threatening to ' whack ' him for interfering in politics, netizens came to the Johor prince's defence, bolstering his support.

Tunku Ismail responded with a silent video where he merely beckoned with a hand gesture, in an apparent message to Nazri to ' bring it on '.

The video, which went viral, boosted the 'cool factor' of the prince among a relatively young internet audience who are oblivious to the Johor royal family's chequered history.

The entire episode turned out to be a public relations coup for the prince at the expense of Umno.

The fact that the prince received military training at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun, India and is now a "brigadier-general" in the Johor Military Force also helps to project a 'macho' image.

Even before the spat with Umno, Tunku Ismail had steadily built up his public stature using the state's football club.

After losing the contest for presidency of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) to Pahang crown prince Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah last year, Tunku Ismail became a leading critic of FAM.

His criticism also garnered him support fuelled by frustration over the country's faltering standards in the game.

This culminated in the unfurling of a large banner at a football match in February, which showed a man in FAM suit with a dog head , in an apparent attack on Tengku Abdullah ( photo ).

A day later, Tunku Ismail broke his silence, stating that he did not agree with the action but empathised with why football fans had unfurled the banner, stating that they were disappointed with FAM.

His defence of football fans who were under attack earned him praise.

Tunku Ismail also had no qualms criticising Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin last month over Malaysia's friendly match with Tottenham Hotspurs, which he described as being geared for profit instead of improving the national team.

Region's richest prince-turned-businessman

Born on June 30, 1984, Tunku Ismail is the eldest of six children of Johor's Sultan Ibrahim and Raja Zarith Sofia.

After his early education in Johor, Tunku Ismail ( photo ) pursued his studies at the Australian International School Singapore and Hale School in Perth Australia.

He received his early education in Johor Baru before pursuing his studies at the Australian International School, Singapore in 1999 and at the Hale School in Perth, Australia.

Tunku Ismail, who will turn 31 next week, is married to 21-year-old Khaleeda Bustamam.

Beyond his public statements, Tunku Ismail has also rapidly grown to become one of the richest men in the region.

At only 30, Tunku Ismail made a whopping RM209 million by selling 9.23ha of prime land in Johor Bahru to a Singapore company.

This single deal alone saw Tunku Ismail's wealth grow to rival that of the 50th person in Forbes' 2014 top 50 richest Malaysians list.

The man ranked at number 50 on the list is Robert Tan, the property developer of the Mid-Valley Megamall and Gardens Mall fame. He has a net worth of RM220 million.

With his growing wealth and influence among the public, particularly Johoreans, Tunku Ismail is well-positioned to succeed his father as perhaps one of the most powerful and wealthiest sultans in the country.

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